71 Years Ago, The De Havilland Comet Took To The Skies


71 years ago today, a new era began. This era would spark everlasting change in the aviation industry — but the plane that started it all would fade into history and become only a memory. Today I present to you, the story of the De Havilland Comet.

History of the Comet
Before the end of WWII, a government-appointed committee deemed it best to use the new technology called “jet engines” instead of propellers to lead development in the ever changing transport industry. Geoffrey De Havilland was a member of this committee, and a jet aircraft was later developed at Hatfield by R. E. Bishop, the chief designer. The aircraft was specified to fly at 500kts at 40,000ft, which was unheard of at the time. Development of the project was started in 1945 and was called “Swallow” by the Ministry of Supply, and “TG283” by De Havilland. Later, the name “Comet” was revived from a 1934 racing aircraft and the name stuck. Geoffrey’s son, Geoffrey was the test pilot, but he was tragically killed in September in the crash of the second prototype (TG306). Jon Cunningham then be alien the new chief test pilot for the project.

The worlds first jet airliner, the De Havilland Comet, took to the skies on July 27, 1949 at Hatfield Airport. Pilot John Cunningham (on his 30th birthday), began with a few taxi-runs, before listing into the air. The press had left by the time the aircraft climbed up to 10,000ft, and then came back down to 100ft for a flyby over the runway. They then landed after a 31 minute flight. Although it was short, these 31 minutes changed aviation forever.

Comet 1 prototype at Hatfield Credit.

What did this mean for aviation?
The De Havilland Comet was the first jet airliner, and since it was so revolutionary, this technology spread throughout the world. The relatively new technology of jet engines quickly vastly improved over nether next few years and became widely used in only a few years. BOAC, one of the primary customers, reported that 5 Comets could to the work of 8 piston-powered airliners.

As the Comet was the first jet airliner, everyone wanted to get their hands on it, including multiple airlines. With other jet airliners appearing around the market, De Havilland had to improve. This resulted in the development of the Comet variants 2, 3, and 4. Despite this, and the bad safety record of the Comet, it wasn’t nearly as popular as other airliners such as the 707 and DC-8.

The one-of-a-kind engine design of the Comet. The ghost engines used were encased inside the wing. Credit.

What happened to the Comet?
As many of you know, all good things must come to an end. Although the Comet was a revolution, it suffered from structural failures and metal fatigue. This was partly due to how the aircraft was shaped, especially around the square windows, which caused unnecessary stress on the metal, causing it to fail.

This issue was mostly fixed with the later variants, such as the Comet 4. But the Comet had suffered from having a bad reputation that people would rather fly piston airliners, and as airlines we’re changing over to jets, they ordered planes such as the 707, DC-8, BAC-11 and the Trident. The Comet quickly lost popularity, and was eventually forgotten as even its vastly more popular competitors became dated and old. The Comet’s last revenue flight was conducted by Dan Air in 1980, and the final flight was in 1997 by the Royal Aircraft Establishment. After this, the comet became

BOAC Comet 4 taxiing to the gate. Credit.

The Comet was truly something else, and it revolutionized the aviation industry forever. It’s so sad to see such an amazing plane be relegated to just a page in a history book or a topic on the IFC. G-CDPA is the only surviving aircraft that’s in taxable condition, and there’s none flying today, which is sad to hear.

It was so fun to learn and write about this amazing aircraft, and I hope you enjoyed reading. Have a great day, IFC!

Credits and sources




(Photos have their respective credits below them).


71 years… Jeez.

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Just to think, we still use essentially the same technology to propel the aircraft of today, it’s incredible!

I’ve always found these types of aircraft, with the engine in the wing specifically, very interesting! Cool read, nice topic!


Me too, these retro aircraft have always Intrigued me. Thank you!

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Well we haven’t reinvented it yet, but it’s leaps and bounds better, and really only resembles it in its core design principles. It is crazy though, but just goes to show how awesome the jet engine was…

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Yeah. It may be vastly different, but in many ways it’s still the same too. The jet engine was something that was just as revolutionary as the piston engine, cause before then, there was no way to power aircraft efficiently.

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it looks futuristic tbh

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It’s 71 years old, but still looks modern — no other plane can claim that. We saw this design only in this time period, and then designs just went stale. I know all aircraft look different, but engines under the wings gets old after awhile.

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You know your an a geek when you have two books, by two different people, with two different pictures, taken by two different photographers, just seconds away from each other…
(From one of my long ago topics)

I do love this plane. It’s a shame it went down so soon.

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I walked around the one at the Duxford museum a few years ago - it’s literally like taking a step back in time. It was quite lamentable…

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ngl, I think it looks more modern than anything we have today.

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Now that’s just beautiful! I’d love to there and see it.

@N2628P, that’s quite a coincidence. 😂

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I have to agree with that, @AvioesEJogos. We’ve never seen an airliner like this since the Comet.

Sice the B-52, nothing has really changed, other than Concorde and Tu-144

Lokk how the basic design is exactaly the same, except for the wings position and the gear design (not visible on that B-52 photo)


I think people forget that after the initial issues were solved the comet was actually a very good aircraft. In fact the comet 4 was in use by the RAF up until about 2010 as a maritime patrol aircraft (Its better known as the Nimrod) It’s such a shame we no longer build any aircraft here in the U.K.

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Well, no pain no gain

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Yep. It was renamed the Nimrod MR.2. Very good aircraft!

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Ya. Technically it’s a different technology, this used the Commet 50 turbo jet, which in the simplest terms is a zero bypass turbo fan engine, turbo fans being what you see on more or less every jet today. The last true turbo jet was the Concord. Turbo Jets don’t have the fan at the front, in the simplest terms the air more or less goes right into the compressor. In a turbo fan air first goes through the fan (that big propeller looking thing at the front of more or less any jet engine you can think of) and some of it bypasses the compressor. Early ones were usually 0 < bypass ratio > 2, and are now considered “low bypass turbo fans” todays engines are generally 5 < bypass ratio > 10, ya, you read that right in some engines like the GE9X I believe will set a new record at 10.2:1, that means for every part of air that goes through the compressor 10.2 bypass it. There’s a complicated answer as to why that is the more efficient option, and since I’m certainly no expert I’ll let you look into that on your own. That’s also not to mention the thousands of improvements in material science, and other fields that make a modern jet engine much better, but this plane was a very important step, crazy to think that it’s already 70 years old.

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The Comet pioneered in not only jet technology, but structural design of aircraft. Such as round windows are better than square windows. After the kinks were worked out, it was amazing, but it wasn’t as popular due to its reputation.

Thanks for the info, @KPIT! 🙂

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